After observing Des Moines Water Works’ (DMWW) CEO Bill Stowe during the past couple of years, I’ve really started to wonder about his role. Is this guy the manager of a utility that supplies water to much of central Iowa? Or is he really an environmental activist who is simply trying to bend Iowa agriculture to his vision of farmers spending tons of time applying for environmental permits and adhering to one-size-fits-all regulations.

There have been a lot of instances that lead me to believe Stowe is really more of an activist.

First, under Stowe’s leadership the DMWW is forcing its ratepayers to fund a costly lawsuit against 10 drainage districts in northwest Iowa some 200 river miles upstream. The water supplier is trying to compel the drainage districts to obtain Clean Water Act permits and to pay for alleged damages. (In essence, trying to force someone else to do their job.) However, federal permits have never been required for non-point sources and, in fact, numerous court rulings and Congressional actions have underscored the fact that agricultural storm water is expressly excluded from the permitting process.

Nitrate-only focus

Second, the DMWW board approved a $241 million long-term improvement plan to address long-overdue infrastructure needs. But instead of concentrating on all the needed updates, Stowe talks almost exclusively about the cost of a new nitrate removal plant. That potential plant, even at its top cost estimate, would be only a quarter of the total cost of the improvement plan, as Des Moines City Councilwoman Christine Hensley pointed out recently. And an engineering consultant’s report released last year placed the nitrate removal plant at far less than 25 percent.

Add to that Stowe’s numerous statements to the media and at public forums. In those, he invariably denigrates the state’s water quality initiative, the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, and downplays all the steps that farmers are taking to improve water quality.

Not long ago Stowe even joined in with activists at a rally loudly protesting Iowa livestock permitting rules.

All of these instances make Stowe seem a lot more like an anti-farm activist than someone leading a utility whose sole purpose is to supply safe, clean water to 500,000 customers in central Iowa.